The ink hadn’t dried on Stephen Strasburg’s new contract before Mets pitchers – Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, and, especially Matt Harvey – all began dancing a collective jig.
The much hyped right-handed strikeout machine signed a 7-year, $175 million contract extension without ever having hit the open market. This is very surprising given that Strasburg’s agent is Scott Boras, notorious for pushing free agency to its absolute limits. The contract includes quite a bit of deferred money and the now popular three-year opt-out, but it averages $25 million per season.
This is remarkable given that this pitcher has never won 20 games or a Cy Young Award. Yes, he’s put up some big strikeout numbers and has produced an impressive 3.07 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in his six plus seasons. Yes, he’s still just 27 years old and seems to really be taking it to the next level this year. But besides early results, hype and Boras, Strasburg also shares the same elbow scar as Matt Harvey.
Harvey is the closest of the Mets big five to free agency. Currently in his first year of arbitration, Harvey is under two more years of control before hitting the open market after the 2018 season. Should he consider going down this same path, Harvey would do so two years from now, at age 29. On the books for a little over $4 million this year, Harvey will see arbitration raises each of the next two seasons. During that time the Mets will have three options – a) ride it out, enjoy the discounted ace and let him walk as a free agent b) trade him in 2017 when he’s hopefully rebuilt his value and is an appealing trade chip as he’ll have a year of control remaining or c) attempt to make a deal with the devil Boras.
Should they go the latter route, a lot will depend on how Harvey performs between now and then. This writer is confident that Harvey’s recent struggles are a hiccup and he’ll soon go back to being an ace pitcher. Should this regression prove to be ongoing or should he suffer another significant injury, all bets are off. For the sake of comparison, let’s say Harvey goes back to being Harvey and warrants such a contract. He’d be 30 at the start of it and it would take him through his age 36 season. Hard to say right now if that makes sense or not.
The tricky part for the Mets front office and ownership is going to be deciding which of the big five they’ll invest in long term. Even if we win the World Series this year and next (imagine that for just a second, smile, breathe, come back) the revenue windfall still wouldn’t afford us the luxury of doling out five Strasburg contracts. That would amount to $125 million, nearly their current team payroll. Unless you filled the lineup and bullpen with nothing but rookie contracts, this wouldn’t work.
The good news is we have time. Wheeler hits free agency after the 2019 season, deGrom and Syndergaard after 2020 and Matz after 2021. Odds are, sadly, that at least one of these guys will get wiped out (or at least rendered mediocre) by injury before they reach free agency. One of them may end up getting traded. Realistically, we can only hope to lock up two or three of them at these prices, but it’s a long way off. Which two or three wind up remaining in a Mets uniform into their 30s will depend on performance, health, and market factors. We have no clue what to expect from Wheeler upon his return and Matz still has to prove he can stay healthy. The only thing we can say with some certainty is that these young pitchers all have a shot to be very rich some day.